Social Media warning labels not enough to protect teens, Parents still need to do their part

On school days, I check in on my eldest son while he does his homework to offer help and ensure he’s not distracted. Like his peers, he has a smartphone and recently joined social media.

Jul 05, 2024

By J.D. Long Garcia (Senior Editor at America)

On school days, I check in on my eldest son while he does his homework to offer help and ensure he’s not distracted. Like his peers, he has a smartphone and recently joined social media.

The US Surgeon General’s recent call to add a warning label to social media caught our attention. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy suggested in The New York Times that social media warning labels could alert parents and adolescents to potential mental health risks, requiring congressional action. He compared it to tobacco warning labels that have helped people quit.

A survey of Latino parents indicated such warnings might encourage monitoring or limiting children’s social media use. When I asked my son about it, he thought the warning label was pointless, believing people would ignore it. I shared his initial scepticism.

I explained some reasons that came to mind: people get bullied on social media, people spend too much time on it (he was surprised that US teens spend an average of 4.8 hours a day on it, according to a Gallup poll), and platforms like Instagram can negatively affect self-image. We’ve discussed social media extensively as a family. I pointed out that online posts don’t always reflect real life and that people can be more aggressive online due to the lack of in-person consequences.

“OK, but if it’s so bad, then why do they allow it at all?” my son wondered.

I explained that it’s not all bad. Social media can connect people to supportive communities they might not otherwise be able to access and provide fast news upda t e s , though not always accurate. My son remained unconvinced about the warning label’s effectiveness, and I shared his doubts. Dr Murthy did not claim the warning label alone would make social media safe. He has suggested other measures for government leaders, social media platforms, and consumers, such as increasing transparency from social media companies and making schools phone-free zones. Dr Murthy also advised parents to restrict children’s phone use during social gatherings and before bed.

However, Dr Murthy sometimes seems to portray parents and children as social media’s unwitting victims needing government intervention. That’s not how I see it. As a parent, I am responsible for my children’s overall well-being. My wife and I are accountable for their me n t a l , physical, emotional, and spiritual health. W i t h that in mind, I have a few ideas. Be self-aware. Both parents and children should understand how social media affects them. Recognise how social media influences emotions and behaviours. Sharing my own experiences — good and bad — on social media helps facilitate these conversations.

Make time to talk. And listen. It’s important to talk to our kids about more than just social media. I always want to hear about my son’s school day and his friends. Even though I haven’t played video games in years, I listen to him talk about his favourites. The more I know about him, the more I can love him. Our home should be a safe space for our children to share their thoughts and feelings. While our younger children don’t have phones yet, we aim to build strong face-to-face communication before they do.

Discuss social media regularly. Since social media is a constant in our lives, it should be a regular conversation topic. This involves more than just monitoring usage time. We discuss both negative and positive experiences on social media. Understanding how social media operates is also crucial.

Resources like the Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” and insights from Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and philosopher, can be valuable.

I love being a parent. It brings immense joy to my life. Despite generational gaps in communication, I strive to understand my children. I may not fully grasp what it’s like to be a teenager today, but I can reassure my children of my unconditional love and support every day. They are cherished by their parents and by God.

Maybe warning labels on social media could spark meaningful conversations between parents and children. However, building loving family relationships should not wait for that.--America Magazine

Total Comments:0